Pontifications: Applying commercial production principles to the A330 MRTT

Second in a series.

By Scott Hamilton

Dec. 13, 2021, © Leeham News: When EADS, the forerunner of Airbus Group, pondered whether to proceed on its own to compete with the A330 MRTT for the US Air Force’s aerial tanker competition, the factors went well beyond the tanker.

Plans for the Airbus A320 program, production ramp-up, and potentially a US final assembly line also were weighed.

“An assessment was made as a consequence of having been through the competition once before and learning from that,” said Sean O’Keefe. O’Keefe was CEO of EADS North America at the time.

Then, O’Keefe said in an interview with LNA in October, was the realization of what Airbus was doing to really ramp up production on A320s. Airbus had a plethora of things to figure out what that would take.

Rocking along

Sean O’Keefe

“We had been rocking along steady-state, producing 400 A320s a year up until that point. Then it suddenly went up dramatically. We had looked at what that projection would take and how we’d get there. What kind of learning curves we might derive from that? We considered all the other supply chain stuff and everything and came out with something that was a good 10% to 15% less” than the Northrop-EADS offering if EADS went ahead alone.

“What we didn’t expect was Boeing would be substantially less,” O’Keefe recalled.

The requirements set by the Air Force called for a Technically Acceptable, Lowest Price competition, or TALP.

Under TALP, none of the A330 MRTT’s capabilities beyond the baseline would be credited unless the bid price between Boeing and EADS was within 1% of each other. The baseline set was the performance of the aging Boeing KC-135 tanker.

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Both offers by EADS and Boeing exceeded the KC-135 baseline. The scoring was done on a Pass-Fail approach.

Projected operating costs over a 40-year life span were also considered. The larger, heaving MRTT cost more to operate than the Boeing airplane, based on the 767-200ER. The cost delta on a single trip mission wasn’t as wide as Boeing claimed, but over 40 years, the numbers added up, significantly.

Still, it all came down to price. Boeing bid $167m. EADS bid more than $180m—well above the 1% trigger point to allow the MRTT to get extra credit.

Boeing came in with a substantially lower production cost,” O’Keefe said. The Boeing tanker was a paper airplane compared with the operating MRTT. So, EADS estimated that developing the tanker would cost Boeing $3bn to $3.5bn. We were at around $1.5bn, in that range, at the most for development.”

Cutting costs

“That was completely rational given the fact that Boeing would develop the 767 into a tanker,” O’Keefe said. EADS, on the other hand, already incurred those costs. “We were going to roll it right off and say, ‘That’s how we’ll build it.’ It’ll look much the same and operate much in the same manner as an MRTT.”

But since the USAF now pursued a TALP approach, EAD and Airbus still had to shave costs.

The MRTT airplane is what it is, so there was little Airbus could do to cut costs on the plane itself. Having been through the previous competition, however, shifted EADS/Airbus thinking about its overarching approach.

“Now, we said let’s do this in a way that really does recognize what we think we can get out of a lot of knowledge now having lived through the prior experience,” O’Keefe said. “I can’t understate the value of the concurrent decisions being made internally on the A320 production rate. That was a big, big deal because we’ve been debating that on a commercial basis exclusively for about the same period in which we were heavily engaged in preparing the new proposal after it had been overturned. We learned a hell of a lot out of what the commercial team was really examining and really wrestling with of breaking out of this fixed production pattern on the commercial end for 320s.”

O’Keefe said Airbus came to the realization that there was no reason why Airbus couldn’t replicate that same learning curve of focus for the MRTT.

“It was really a lot of hand-in-glove with some of the commercial applications and commercial experiences that have been undergone at exactly the same period that gave us the confidence of saying, ‘Yes, we can definitely shave 10% to 15% off the margin relative to what we had originally offered now that we know what we know and we can see what we’re doing,’” O’Keefe said. “We’ve already had another 18 months’ worth of development time that’s already been invested in MRTT anyway. Putting all that together, it turned out to be something that we said, ‘Okay, even with that, this is still a long shot.’”

Next: What were the odds?

Read about the bitter tanker competition in Air Wars

My book, Air Wars, The Global Combat Between Airbus and Boeing, recounts the bitter battle between Airbus and Boeing to win the contract for the Air Force’s KC-X aerial refueling tanker. It also goes into the ramifications of the original tanker scandal at Boeing and subsequent impacts on other aspects at Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Some excerpts:

Boeing’s tanker scandal of the early 2000s led to changes with the chief executive officer that had ramifications for the development of the 787. The competition to win the contract to replace the aging fleet of USAF KC-135s dragged on for nearly 10 years—and resulted in billions of dollars in write-offs from the extraordinary low-bid contract awarded Boeing.

The tanker deal was agreed to in May 2003. By the following September, Arizona Sen. John McCain, a self-proclaimed watchdog of government waste, scrutinized the transaction as too costly to the government. The $26 billion deal equated to a lease of $260 million per airplane, compared with a purchase price of $150 million. McCain thought the deal was a bad one,
way too expensive, a bail-out for Boeing post-9/11 (arguable, but a stretch) and smacked of illegality.

The senator waged a dogged campaign against the Boeing deal throughout 2004. In November, McCain entered a statement into the Congressional Record eviscerating Boeing, the USAF and the Pentagon. “The rider was in fact the result of an aggressive behind-the-scenes effort by The Boeing Company, with considerable assistance from senior USAF procurement official Darleen Druyun and others,” McCain said. “Through the hearings and investigations that followed, we unearthed a crushing body of evidence on how much a folly the proposal actually was.” He also accused the parties of a host of improprieties and of conspiring to discredit him. McCain’s statement was nearly 4,500 words or nine pages long.

By December, the USAF froze action.

115 Comments on “Pontifications: Applying commercial production principles to the A330 MRTT

  1. Manufacturing Engineers take a first swing at cost in a very simplified way. Its not perfect, but its surprisingly accurate. Parametric Data of metallic aircraft developed over decades allows you to estimate costs for design, tooling and the vehicle itself, on a per pound basis. Understanding that, the MRTT was at a serious disadvantage. Previous amortization of the development costs by reusing design data and tooling shrink the numbers, but it is terribly difficult to do much better than the historical data in metallic structures, barring a significant process change. The 767 Tanker had such a revolutionary change. In 2015, the fuselage join process was changed to utilize “paddle fittings” instead of the old metal finger style longeron splices. This saved many hundreds of assembly hours and shrank the vehicle assembly time in the Final Assembly positions by a number of days. This allowed the 767 line to operate as an ITAR qualified environment without increasing the footprint. This saved a pile of money, and the vehicle build quality was better. Not much has been written about this, so its significance isn’t widely understood…….

    • The A330MRT was in development and it was NOT built to the USAF Bid specifications (the secret one)

      O’Keefe is a spinner veering into falsehoods.

      • ‘Secret one ‘
        There you go again with this bizarre idea theres secret specifications that other bidders can know about

        • It creates a certain “James Bond” mystique…adds pretended intrigue to try and justify an otherwise inexplicable mess 😏

        • Duke:

          That in itself is totally and completely false.

          You have to have Top Security clearance (Airbus does as I have stated ) to see the secret specifications . You can add into that a need to know.

          So while I had some pretty high security clearances, no where near that level let alone need to know.

          EMP protection, jamming, communications, the degree of ballistic hardening and where, all are under lock and key.

          None of which the US wants adversaries to know, nor would UK/France/Germany etc. for equally valid reasons.

          Some mix of those was probably in the Australian contract and took 5 years to achieve. Unlikely it was to the degree the US spec was.

          You can see Airbus offering incremental upgrades or adders to the A330MRT now.

          • How the contractor meets the EMP hardening is up to them, the military just have standard specifications – that increase the protection for the risk, the B-21 will be way higher-that are hardly secret.
            Back in 2011 General Bogdan testimony to Congress
            ‘the requirement
            for Boeing is to deliver to the Air Force 18 ‘fully ready to go
            to war on day one’ airplanes with all the support equipment, all
            the tech quarters, all of the training by August of 2017. That
            is the requirement in the contract. Boeing has set a baseline
            and attempting to deliver those 18 airplanes approximately 5
            months earlier than that in March of 2017. That is their own
            internal timeline.’
            Its nearly 5 years later and the requirements havent yet been met.

          • Yes, going from a Commercial airliner modification to a full USAF wartime spec Aircraft involves changes. Just look how Boeing had to work hard going from the KC-767 to the KC-46A. Did the KC-767 buyers really understand what they bought? Hence Airbus and/or its US partner must have got the full USAF requirements to make an offer. Lockheed Martin for sure is on the USAF distribution list of its warplane specifications with methods of verifications.

          • Airbus as a NATO ally is cleared for top secret projects, that was never in question (and its not competition if you are not)

            There is nothing secret about making a basic tanker and in fact a number of 767 have been (Boeing and Israel).

            Where O’Keefe is full of baloney is that the air frames are commercial mfg and then modified. You are not going to use the same methods doing those mods on his so called commercial basis.

            Its a pure hand on cut and re-fab job with very limited numbers.

          • Duke: Ergo, you were wrong and you should say so.

            Neither you nor I know what the military laid out in any of those secret specifications.

            I worked with both Build to spec and Build to Print. The USAF could have chosen either one and it could be a combination of which aspect is being required as to the approach.

  2. Given all that has gone on, the parlous state of Boeing and the current focus of the US government I can’t see any chance of Airbus being successful in this competition. The contract is simply too large and too politically charged for Airbus to have any opportunity to win.

    • Yes, indeed — good summary.
      An incentive for Airbus is that a large A330 MRTT contract would provide some extra life for the A330 production line — but maybe A330 neo sales will pick up, who knows?
      Airbus and LM would be better off spending their money/resources on other projects — this whole exercise is just a waste of time.

      Next up: The US is considering sanctions against India because it has purchased Russian arms. It won’t be long now before the US is sanctioning everybody, and it won’t have a friend left (except, of course, Israel). That will punt a dent in US arms exports — all the more incentive for the US to “buy American” as much as possible, so as to compensate.

  3. Given all that has gone on, the parlous state of Boeing and the current focus of the US government I couldn’t see any chance of Airbus being successful in this competition. The contract is simply too large and too politically charged for Airbus to have any opportunity to win.

    • That would be wrong. It comes down to costs. And as the RFP states, a ready to go tanker (if that means USAF specs then the A330MRT is not ready to go)

      LM is not a low cost operation and Airbus needs to make money. LM is not noted for its cost efficiency structure let alone putting two Corporation together that make money on the deal.

      The A330MRT has some aspects that are above what the KC-46 offers (cargo and fuel). To get a bid that would have to be written in as an adder not a check mark over minimum (basis of minimum is KC-135R) .

      An offset is the lack of the cargo door so you can load standard cans and pallets on the main deck.

      Offset is that the USAF is crying for tankers, not cargo aircraft. Cargo is a nice to have but not a top need

      • Is the new MRTT bid going to be based on the A330-800? Or the older -200, because it could have American made turbines?

        • Sam 1: No, its clearly stated its based on the existing A330MRT (A330-200)

          While the Turbines are an assist in the American content, its not the real issue (note, all countries require offsets, some as high as 200% of the contract price, sometimes the equipment itself and sometimes other offsets or combination).

          The issue is the A330-800 has not been converted to a tanker, that would be another added cost and an offering that is going to be too costly already. Added cost of a US assembly line.

          And the A330MRT has never met the non public specs of the KC-46A, ergo, that is another cost and unless you have done it, runs high.

          • Ok. When new engines are installed, I know other changes are made. I just didn’t know in this case to what extent. And the if the fact that RR turbines were the only option.

          • In theory the US and GE would like to see an A330neo MRTT being produced in the US and the A330 line closed in France. The A330 has caused Boeing troubles many times and can do it again if gets GEnX engines and a block update with a weight reduction and even more adanced wing tips.

          • There is no realistic path for the A330NEO to be made in the US let alone converting it and certifying it as a tanker.

            The A330CEO would have to be assembled in the US and that alone is a huge cost and a major delay in deliveries.

            As long as the so called better features don’t get a big enough credit (or any) in a cost shootout which this would be, The A330MRT looses.

            LM is not going to loose money and Airbus most likely would not.

          • TW :: “.. There is no realistic path for the …”

            Dogma beats intelligence any time.

          • With A330CEOs being converted to freighters, maybe a line will open in this country and start the ball rolling for modification / manufacturing here.

      • Only when France can’t get a program going that brings the same capability to the table albeit at ruinous prices.

        I understand Germany is going to dump the Tiger helicopters and buy AH-64. 75% of the Germany Tigers are inop.

        Germany did not buy the French proposal to morph the Atlantic into an A320 either. They bought P-8.

        Finland bought the F-35. When you want it to work its US hardware, if you want a social program, its EU. All those offsets don’t get you a working machine.

        • ‘Wanting it too work its US.’
          The F35 is only 10 years late on working as it should. Still to come is carrying droppable fuel tanks! Its been so long in development that the computer on board hardware has to be replaced along with the wonderkid digital support system ALIS. Another $16 bill please… to get it too work.
          KC-46 is still only able to refuel a portion of the planes it was designed for

          • It’s exactly the point I made above: the intrinsic assumption that it must be better if it comes from the US — resulting in a total lack of realization that the US defense industry is consistently producing headliner failures, and a lack of action to do anything about it.

            Same story over at BA.

          • Yet when the EU wants good kit the go US.

            The difference is the US designs machines to work in war, they test them and push them and sooner or latter they work.

            EU is an employment program and they don’t want to use it (well France can be pretty belligerent)

            Germany is having to change their assault rifle because it failed in the heat of combat (the M-16 did as well, issues long ago corrected)

            We expect to use our stuff and they work on it until it meets or exceeds spec, its not just for show.

          • …someone is confusing the past with the present/future…

          • @TransWorld

            Stay on the topic with aircraft. You have at least some knowledge here.

            Your point about the German assault rifle HK G36 failing in combat is completely fictional. There were no complaints by soldiers on duty in Afghanistan concerning the rifle. The complaints were made by WTD91 (https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wehrtechnische_Dienststelle_für_Waffen_und_Munition)

            Some hack there made an inappropriate test between the G36 and light machine guns. Compared to these guns the rifle lost far more accuracy than the machine guns. Germany didn’t ordered the slightly heavier MG36 (~ 100 g). Some problems were related to ammunition not being according to specifications. Guess what: the company has US ownership.

            The claim by Heckler & Koch that the weapon was built up to the specifications is supported by a court decision against Germany.

    • same old story, repeated ad nauseam.

      Nobody says you have to go global.

      But if you just pretend to go for global participation
      ( just for looks anf faking competition )
      and then finish with a partisan decision for the home team
      you are nothing more than low life.

  4. It’s not just the KC-46: there’s a much broader problem with the US defense industry. Is anyone doing anything about this? Probably not: if you tell yourself everyday that you’re the greatest, you’ll never realize your shortcomings.

    “The US Air Force Quietly Admits the F-35 Is a Failure”


    And yes, TW, we know that Switzerland and Finnland recently ordered this lemon, but that’s for 3 reasons:
    – Compatability with other European / NATO countries (i.e. all going down the wrong road together);
    – Recouping some program investment, if possible;
    – Fantasy / vain hope that the program can — some day — perform to spec.

    • Agreed, the F-35 is a failure, but unfortunately for the EU, its the best failure going.

      Now Switzerland is a puzzle. Ostensibly neutral, it seems if the Russian invade though, they are going to throw in with NATO (all that inter-connectivity the F-35 brings).

      Otherwise a T-50 wold work fine for Switzerland (or a Tucano)

      You wonder why Finland bought the F-35? Simple. As soon as you take off an S-400 blows you out of the air with Typhoon, Grippen E, Rafale. F-35, sure its awful, but darned if you can see it. Better awful in the air than a cloud of aluminum. Well and you sneak around behind the S-400 and blow it to bits.

      Finland was not part of the F-35 program. Ergo, the benefits will be secondary. Apparently Grippen E could not offer enough (or was a wash).

      Sweden probably has built their last independent aircraft. They have some standoff distance from Russia and with a good jamming suite probably can manage.

      Of course front line countries like S. Korea and Japan don’t know what they are doing either.

      Australia does seem to, they have dumped the Tiger and the NH-90 that is such a program disaster. Yep, buying AH-64 and H-60.

      • “…its the best failure going.”

        The UAE seems to disagree…it just ordered 88 Rafale 4s.

        Apart from that, stop flattering yourself with fantacized “capabilities” of the F-35 relative to other aircraft: the plane is a total lemon. It recently put on a lovely little show taking off from a UK carrier…I can imagine the Chinese laughed themselves silly. No point in having a plane that can’t take off when required.

        Same applies to tankers.

        • Bryce:

          Well its -15 deg (F) and I needed some entertainment, thank you for the opportunity (-22 F a few miles to the South of us) – I need some more snow so I can get back to snow blowing.

          Sadly for you, trying to make a counter only proves you don’t know what you are talking about.

          UK F-35 Loss: This was negligence on the deck crew part (they screwed up). They left an engine cover on deck and the F-35 sucked the cover. No aircraft can suck a cover and make a takeoff.

          UAE may or may not get the F-35. That is up to US congress to approve. The US did not allow the F-22 to be sold to Japan, Australia or any other ally (I agree that was a mistake but it was not).

          At issue is the ability of spying to get data on the equipment and in the case of stealth, its extremely close held. Turkey has been kicked out of the F-35 program because they are buying Russian S-400 systems and the US does not want that proximity of data collection the Russian would get.

          The F-35 along with the F-22 is China worst nightmare. They can’t see it, they can’t fight it. Two F-35 handled right can take out an entire squadron with no losses.

          The Chinese fear it (and the F-22). And it will only get better.

          Much like a Panther tank, handled right it was almost impossible to kill, handled wrong a Sherman with a puny 75 mm mid velocity gun could and did take it out.

          As for the tanker, its slowly getting fixed and released for more missions all the time. In an Emergency it could be released for all of them.

          • Norway has NH90 issues, hmmm – where have we heard this before.

            Wasn’t there something about they were not designed to work in salt water even though they were sold as Salt Water anti sub aircrat?

          • The fallacy of your response is striking. The US is not going to give its tech away to China. Period.

            Equally they will not be allowed to operate the F-35 out of country (for several reasons but a loss in a hostile region is one of them)

            They fished both F-35 that went into he ocean out for that same reason.

            Turkey was kicked out of the F-35 program due to their association with Russian and buying the S-400 system.

            The F-35 is a strategic tool that is not going to be sold just anywhere.

            And no one else has anything remotely like it (well we do with the F-22).

            A Rafael stands out on radar like the Queen Mary, the F-35 is a BB.

            Mixed fleets work as for day in day out (if you have air superiority) the Gen 3/4 fighters work fine.

            To understand it all requires more knowldege than just a quip though.

            Rafael deal took 10 years and this may or may happen but the US has certain lines that will not be crossed and if they don’t adhere to them, so what? Iran can invade them and then its over.

            I say let Iran have the whole mess and we can stand back and watch the melt down.

          • Read the article: nobody is talking about “giving tech to China”.
            The issue concerns a sea port in the UAE, which was slated to be used by China.

            Less shouting, more reading.

    • Frank:

      I saw that, TC is about the same level as O’Keefe in my opinion.

      In this case Emirates is only interested in large aircraft, ergo, that is where he thinks Boeing should put its investments.

      Clark was the one who proclaimed RR had a miraculous 7% improvement in SFC with the new whiz bang Trent 900 engines. Pure baloney (and worse but will be polite)

    • Bad development for the 777X — the GE9X is now a subject of regulatory controversy:

      “As part of his FAA duties at the GE Aviation Organization Designation Authorization (ODA), Kucera conducted conformity inspections to ensure regulatory compliance. According to the report, Kucera identified 20 to 30 discrepancies that needed resolution before the engine could be added to GE’s production limitation record. According to Kucera, GE subsequently threated to fire him. In an April 1, 2021, email to coworkers, his supervisor, and his supervisor’s superior, Kucera reported the alleged coercion.

      “[My supervisor] has, using authority granted to him by GE, threatened me, a fellow ODA administrator, with termination for having potentially jeopardized the schedule of GE’s product certification [the GE9X] in the performance of my duties representing the FAA,” he said. “That is, in my opinion, reckless, inappropriate, unproductive, and . . . unbecoming of the primary administrator of one of the FAA’s preeminent ODA units.”

      Following the eventual certification of the GE9X engine, Kucera’s supervisor—who also served as the GE ODA lead administrator—put him on a “coaching plan” that would require Kucera to “to demonstrate sustained improvement” in his performance or suffer further so-called employment actions “up to and including termination.” Kucera told the committee that on March 19, 2021, a human resources representative from GE Aviation “delivered the same termination threat verbally” and informed him of the coaching plan.”


    • Pedro:

      That is nothing new and the whole story adds in the need to get the A220-100/200 up to exceptions on produion, rates and attempt to control the committed costs BBD ran up in its contracts.

      • @TW

        According to AB Canada, they’ll become profitable around 2025 mostly thru’ production ramp up, similar to BBD’s strategy.

        As AB continues to invest in developing new aircraft, BA faces a fast-shrinking potential market.

  5. Every single American working or supporting Airbus are nothing less than ‘Benedict Arnolds’..O’Keefe, Leahy, Shelby, workers in Airbus plants in the US,…as well as bloggers and more…

    • Wow.

      I have no use for O’Keefe, but he or anyone else in the US working for Airbus be they US citizens or not are not traitors.

      Shelby was self serving but having Airbus in produion in the US is a bonus not a negative. Quite a bit of US content goes into Airbus.

    • What about the ‘Bendedict san’ people who work in Japan making the large sections of 767…its like a lot of Boeing planes has substantial offshore content

    • I’m guessing you feel the same way about Boeing them huh? After all, here is where the 787 comes from:

      wingtips – Korea
      wing – Japan
      centre fuselage – Italy
      forward fuselage – US & Japan
      wingbox – Japan
      landing gear – France
      batteries – Japan
      wing body fairing – Canada
      cargo doors – Sweden
      trailing edge – Japan
      landing gear wheel well – Japan
      pax doors – France
      horiz stab – Italy
      mov trailing edge – US, Australia, Canada


      Weird how that works, huh?

    • @Philippe Cauchi

      This is hilarious. You’re accusing O’Keefe, Leahy (etc.) of being traitors to the United States; yet you manage to sound like a fifth columnist trying to undermine Canadian policies from within, in favour of Boeing and the United States.

      NB: This quote of yours proves my point:

      “…..Dans le cas contraire, Justin Trudeau devrait recevoir un appel téléphonique en provenance de la Maison-Blanche pour le remettre dans le droit chemin”.

      …..Otherwise, Justin Trudeau should receive a phone call from the White House to get him back on track.


    • @Philippe: Careful. You are skirting Reader Comment rules against personal attacks. Consider yourself warned.


    • More compensation payments (and, perhaps, litigation) coming. And “cash only, please”…no cheap airframes as “payment in kind”.
      Same for AA’s lost summer routes.

  6. In other ways: By choosing this aproach, knowing that Airbus had an A330 based, heavier, larger, better airplane with more capabilites, it was clear that the less capable B767 would win, because nobody cares about capabilities.

    Nice approach, that did lead the US Air force directly where it is now, with a less capable tanker.
    Great aproach, for a not so great country anymore.

    Since when ever did the US military has been satisfied with the 2nd best solution?

    • No more war spoils to leverage.
      Additionally most nations have wised up on US snooping
      and their foreign IP “homesteading”.

      • Sash:

        Good thing I like whack a mole.

        It does not matter if the A330MRT could achieve lunar orbit, the USAF spec did not give you credit if it did.

        The RFP is a form of contract. Its not like someone says, well you wanted 10,000 sq foot building and we are giving you 20,000 sq ft (at double the price).

        You can add bonuses to the contract. In this case the USAF did not.

        It simply said meet the minimum spec and don’t take up more ramp space

        Boeing met all the specs and it was a cost shoot out in contract terms. Boeing underbid Airbus. Airbus per the spec was not given any credits to offset that. Airbus knew they would not get credits. Boeing knew they would not get credits. If the USAF had seemed those features worth, they could have given credits.

        You go to buy a car. You want a basic car (manual, no A/C, no electric windows, no radio). The sales man offers you a car with all the bells and whistles. Yep, you are going to pay more.

        USAF was a basic tanker and the other sales guy gave them the basic tanker at a good price.

        • “USAF was a basic tanker and the other sales guy gave them the basic tanker at a good price.”

          Obviously overtaken by reality.
          price is no longer “good” and the product is vastly sub par.

          The downsides of “lowest bidder selected” you also have to look at capability! can the bidder actually perform to spec?
          Even EU bureaucracies are showing some learning impact 🙂

  7. Of relevance to the paywall LNA article just above this one:
    “Why Boeing Stock Dropped Monday”

    “Over the weekend, Presidential Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci warned Americans about the COVID-19 Omicron variant’s ability to evade immunity conferred by existing COVID-19 vaccines, even as medical researchers in Israel reported their own findings that “three shots [of the] Pfizer COVID [vaccine were] 4x less effective against Omicron than Delta.”

    “…airlines specialist Lou Whiteman warned that even in the face of “post-pandemic pent-up demand … we are still looking at years before the industry fully recovers from the crisis.”

    “Faced with this prospect, it would make sense for airlines to postpone planned purchases of airplanes from Boeing and Airbus, and step down their pace of placing new orders for new airplanes as well. That would of course be bad news for Boeing stock; the company’s commercial airplanes division has already racked up two straight years of negative earnings and is en route to a third.

    “Although analysts remain optimistic that Boeing’s business will be back in the black in 2022, Omicron still holds the potential to upset Boeing’s apple cart for a fourth year in a row.”


    • From Seattle Times:

      -> Boeing won 91 net orders in November, with 109 gross orders and 18 cancellations, and with a further seven airplanes removed from the backlog

      According to Simple Flying:

      By April 1, 2022, as many as 66 B787 will become at least one year overdue, allowing customers to walk away ….
      It’s believed AAL has threatened to do so.

  8. Of course it’s a not relevant anymore, but wouldn’t it have been possible to make a KC-135 replacement from an A320 or A321. The KC-135 is roughly the same size as the A321, and has quite a bit a higher MTOW.

    I was just curious, if it wouldn’t have been possible to get a smaller aircraft to match the KC-135 specs better.

    • Sure it would have…and it would have been a real winner on ramp space, wouldn’t it?
      But Boeing probably wanted to give a little more life to the 767 production line.

      • Matth: Good question but as usual, the tech details are far more complex than a simple answer.

        Its not the exact size, its the capacity of fuel involved.

        The KC-135R has 4 x CFM engines (the ones that a 737NG has two of).
        Its upgraded from the original around of around 45,000 lbs of thrust). But replacement was for the KC-135R with CFM engines at around 88,000 lbs thrust and 200,000 lb fuel load out).

        A 737-800/900 simply comes no where near that.

        While both are technically single aisle, the 707 was intercontinental/transoceanic range and the 737 was short medium range.

        • Bigger wings including fuel tanks for the the KC-135
          The KC-135 , like is wider relative the 707 had larger underfloor hold for fuel tanks than of the 737 ( and even included a single tank at the rear fuselage – not often used)

          • I hope they weren’t conformal tanks, given Boeing’s objections to those on the A321XLR!

        • How did United’s deal for supersonic airliners look. Its all puffery to get their name aligned with ‘influencers’…this time of the hydrogen kind

          • Contrary to what naysayers said, operator replaces the B747F with A350F.

          • Pedro:

            Singapore was letting its F fleet fall off, they only fly 747-400F, not the -8F or the 777F. Not all cargo ops use the front opening so its a ? as to its usefulness (I don’t think UPS uses theirs either).

            Looks to me like they are jumping into the F game again, by the time its workign it may be a looser.

            They are heavily vested in the A350 type, less so the 777X. Coin flip and how it works out is down the road.

          • @TW

            Seems to me the importance of range, which many here never considered.

            It’s about time for SIA’s fleet renewal. No doubt you would say how great it is if the order went for BA. Your attitude shows nothing but sour grape!

          • @ Pedro
            In addition to range and fuel burn, don’t forget commonality: the A350F is a natural choice for any A350 operator.
            Probably the reason why Lufthansa (for example) is also interested.

  9. And then there’s this:

    “Federal Aviation Administration officials have approached U.S. prosecutors to warn them that the lone person charged with a crime after the two fatal crashes of Boeing’s 737 MAX is being made a “scapegoat,” according to a court filing in the case.

    The unusual assertions by FAA officials, which could substantially undercut the prosecution’s case, were detailed in a motion by Forkner’s lawyers filed on Monday in a Texas court asking a judge to order access to the officials as potential witnesses in the case.”


  10. Another LoI for the A350F from Singapore AL, this time for 5 plus 5 options – it is slowly gaining traction.

    • Another link to this story. Of particular note:
      “The A350F will replace the seven Boeing 747-400Fs in the fleet. At 109 tons, it has an almost similar cargo volume as the Jumbo Jet (116 tons) but is forty percent better on fuel burn than the quad and reduces carbon emissions by 400.000 tons per year. As such, the order for the A350F supports SIA’s sustainability goals to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.”

      “The Singapore press release gives a range of 4.700 nautical miles for the new A350F, somewhat below the 5.000 nm provided by Air Lease Corporation(ALC) during its media briefing at the Dubai Airshow. Steven Udvar-Hazy said that at reduced volumes, the type is even capable of 6.000 nautical miles”

      “Singapore Airlines also announced today that the agreement with Airbus includes a swap for fifteen A320neo-family aircraft and two A350-900s that are in the order book.”


      “Singapore Airlines is set to become the third customer for the Airbus A350 Freighter. The airline has signed a Letter of Intent for seven A350Fs plus five options, it announced on December 15. Singapore third customer for Airbus A350F.”

      • Writing was on the wall when we saw the specifications of the A350F, the A350 customer base and the current competitive situation. You don’t have to be an oracle to understand many operators are taking a serious look here.

        Boeing couldn’t launch a 777XF while the certification base 777-9 kept/ keeps running into fundamental certification challenges and resulting modifications.

        • Indeed.
          This latest order from SIA brings the A350F order tally to 23 (including LOIs/options) — not a bad showing in just the first month after formal launch.
          It also shows that SIA (one of the 3 biggest A350 operators) doesn’t appear to be concerned by the A350 paint degradation issues.

          If an A350F has 40% less fuelburn that a 747-400F, with an annual reduction of 400.000 tons in carbon emissions, then one can expect many more orders to come…

        • keesje:

          There is nothing that says Boeing can’t launch the 777X-F now. Clearly they do have to fix the cert issues but that applies to the 777-9.

          Its entirely possible people are dubious of Boeing ability to execute.

          I do have to laugh when people cite how much carbon reduction, reality is airlines only care about SFC and the carbon reduction is good for PR Green spin.

          If we really wanted to stop carbon issue we would quit flying!

          • More sour grapes.
            SIA gets to have its cake and eat it: it can vastly reduce carbon footprint, and still keep flying cargo.
            Even the US wants to reduce carbon emissions now — you had heard that, hadn’t you?
            And even if it wasn’t about carbon, there’s still a 40% reduction in the fuel bill — surely that’s of appeal?

            If “there is nothing that says Boeing can’t launch the 777X-F now”, then why wasn’t it launched in Dubai?
            Answer: no point in launching a derivative when there’s a BIG question mark hanging over the certification of the base model.

          • ” Boeing can’t launch the 777X-F ”

            With what set of specs should they launch 🙂
            They are better off dangling an unspecific product to produce some FUD.

            777X seems to take more blockfuel than the A35K
            777X MTOW seem to go against a hard ceiling.
            The basic airframe is quite a bit heavier than the A product.
            Now how to fit the same (or better) payload and range to a 777XF?

          • ESG is now a big consideration whether in fleet renewal or business running, no matter you admit it or not.

  11. “Israel’s request for early KC-46 delivery rejected by the US”

    “The United States has rejected a demand from the Israeli Air Force to facilitate the early delivery of two of the eight Boeing KC-46 Pegasus tankers ordered by the country.

    The initial schedule was for two KC-46s to be delivered to Israel by 2023. In October 2021, sources in the Israeli Defense Ministry reported that a request was made by officers for four tankers instead of two to be delivered by 2024, including two “immediately”. ”


    • Also: after recently appearing to have risen from the ashes, Jet Airways in India is again on the verge of bankruptcy…and over 175 MAX orders are in danger of evaporating…

      • Roger:

        Airbus indeed is having a very good run and we can hope that is part of the impetuous that boots Calhoun out and gets a good CEO to manage Boeing.

        I assume the recent order are not time critical as Airbus is getting horribly backlogged.

        Boeing advantage with the MAX is nearer term deliveries (and its equally competitive up through the -8/9 though not close to the A321 (which I believe now is more than 50% of Airbus orders.

        Ironically Delta is about to take delivery of the last A321 CEO!

        • @TW

          The inconvenient truth is QF able to secure the first delivery in 2023. The writing is on the wall. LOL.

        • The initial Qantas order was for the A321XLR and the A220.
          BA has no offering in either of those categories.

          • ??
            dumping litigation targeting Bombardier was kicked of to protect the 737-7 product its demise potentially toppling the whole MAX line.

            737 -9 and -10 are just as good as any A321. again ask Boeing.

        • “I assume the recent order are not time critical as Airbus is getting horribly backlogged.”

          It’s ‘horrible’ only at current production rates. Maybe it will allow to increase rates faster than expected. Airbus suppliers are probably popping champagne and sweating bullets at the same time.

  12. Unfortunately looking at A220+A320/21 NEO versus 737-8/-10 competitions, many big airlines made/will make the same trade-offs.

    Even US big three.

    Efficiency, engine choice, noise, container options, XLR, comfort, local assembly. Denial didn’t pay off.

    • I don’t buy the comfort aspect, its simply not enough room to make any difference and where you measure at weights in.

      The 737-10 is a response that gives some options to stay MAX though it does not match the A321NEO (or the CEO for that matter)

      While Qantas is not a surprise, KLM would be. Some interesting aspects on backlog and getting what you order and when.

      I had a manager who said it well (as much as it galled the engineer in me). sometimes you have to let it break before you can fix it.

      He was right, I would make heroic efforts to limp something along, then they would decide that was the fix. Or we limped along with something that was no correctable. I got to the point I gave things a lot of thought before I offered anything up.

      How much worse for Boeing it has to get I don’t know, but it sure is one awful mess.

      They should have written in Calhoun contract, you not only have to get MAX back but you have to keep the 787 in the air and certify the 777X.

    • I believe Joyce is also eyeing A321 plus plus and A220-500 on the horizon. Everyone can see the MAX is a dead end.

      • When I was much closer to aircraft acquisitions, future scenarios and flexibility always played a role. I’ve seen aircraft specs included in scenarios, types that never saw the light of day. But still they were pencilled in.

        Airbus commiting to the A220-500 and possible NEO variants, even without ATO, customers or EIS are consisdered for long term. The airlines anticipate on their future fleet reviews. An OE ensuring them there will be extra fleet options towards the end of the decade helps a lot.

        Airlines like AF, KL, QF, AC, DL, UA and others include them. We saw even the NMA popping up in long term fleetplannings.

  13. Airbus’s plans to raise their production to 70/month are starting to look quite necessary, if their suppliers can cope. Maybe that will depend on whether Boeing can follow in a similar way, or perhaps some of the capacity will get transferred from Boeing to Airbus having had their fingers burned by the Max episode. The interesting thing about the Qantas order is that it is relatively small but with a large number of options, presumably because they already had their big Jetstar order that they could use for to manipulate delivery positions. On top of that, if they have customers who fall by the wayside, it shouldn’t be difficult to re-place their slots.

    • Politics will also play a role in planned production hikes: Uncle Sam (and/or lobbyist voices at his door) won’t like the fact that a rate hike by US suppliers will further facilitate the rise of AB and the demise of BA.
      When jealousy is involved, dirty tricks are often played.

  14. More potential business for Lockheed Martin / Northrop Grumman (Boeing doesn’t have enough cash / human resources) — The USAF is looking for a replacement for its AWACs, now that they’ve become vulnerable to Chinese PL-15 long-range missiles.

    “WASHINGTON – The American DRLV E-3 Sentry airborne warning and control system [AWACS] aircraft is vulnerable to Chinese long-range PL-15 air-to-air missiles [AAM]. This was announced on December 9 during a virtual conference by US Secretary of State Frank Kendall, according to Flight Global”

    “The US Air Force is not yet sure what exactly to replace this platform with. However, in September this year, the Chief of Staff of the US Air Force, General Charles Brown, said that the service is considering using the Boeing E-7 Wedgetail to replace the E-3. He also hopes that DRLV missions can be carried out from space in the future.

    At the same time, Kendall believes that Wedgetail is a temporary measure that will fill the gaps until a solution is found in the long run. However, despite the interest in the DRLV space system, this concept, according to Kendall, has technical limitations.”


    Who knows — maybe Airbus will come with an offering 😉

    • Might be too late for that: all those A321s at Wizz and EasyJet, and the A321XLRs going to the Wizz Dubai hub, are probably giving MOL sleepless nights…

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